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Housing advocacy needs a coordinated approach

The affordable housing community must address the question of how we navigate federal housing policy when so many issues are in play: funding for HUD and USDA Rural Development programs; the impact of tax reform, particularly on the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and New Markets Tax Credit; reform of the flood insurance program with major implications for affordability and potential changes to regulations on lending rules, CRA, broadband and fair housing, just to name a few. Given this, NHC is working proactively to build relationships with the new administration, advocate for housing in the federal budget and provide resources members like you can use as you engage in this work yourself.

Having been approved by the Senate Banking Committee, we now await the final vote to confirm Dr. Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. This will allow appointments of the HUD senior leadership team to begin, giving the housing community a better sense of the direction of the agency under the new administration. A similar process is also in play at USDA as we wait to learn who will lead the Rural Development division.

As NHC and the rest of the housing community establish relationships at HUD and USDA and learns more about agendas and priorities, we will also move into education and advocacy on the budget process itself. Coordinating our efforts will be key, as no single organization has the capacity work across all issues simultaneously. We believe the budget and in particular the budget caps for non-defense discretionary programs are the first place for us to focus.

Right now the assumption is that the budget for non-defense discretionary programs (which include housing and other non-entitlement programs that support low and moderate income households) will face pressure if defense spending is increased. Previous bipartisan budget agreements held that if non-defense spending was cut, defense would be cut also and the same was true if one category was increased, based in part on insistence from the White House. How this plays out with a new White House and its impact on the overall budget category numbers will be the first real opportunity for education and advocacy by the affordable housing and community development fields.

Given the efforts of many to connect with members of Congress, White House and agency staff, the full spectrum of the affordable housing community will need to come together to advocate using consistent messages that encompass the continuum of housing and community development programs. Consistent communications is essential in the crowded media and advocacy landscape.

Messages framing housing as infrastructure tie directly to one of the administration’s priorities, and have long-term narrative change benefits as well. We hope that groups will find ways to weave this frame into their education efforts so that we can build a collective case for how our work positively impacts local communities.

This is why NHC has focused so much energy– and why I have focused much of the last 25 years of my career– on the importance of messaging and framing. We still too often attempt to educate and build support with messages tested only on ourselves, or assume that if we just show how bad the need is everyone will become a supporter. These assumptions have not been borne out by results, so it is time to change our approach. To that end we have a couple of resources for you to consider.

NHC hosted a webinar last week, “Why Housing Messages Backfire and What We Can Do.” Thanks to our partners at the FrameWorks Institute and Enterprise Community Partners for speaking on this webinar, which attracted over 1,100 registrants. If you missed this webinar, you can view it and the slides on our website. Another opportunity for you to consider is NHC’s Solutions for Housing Communications 2017 Convening, April 27-28 in Minneapolis. This event focuses on how overcoming community opposition is central to changing the narrative on affordable housing and community development locally, to ultimately create political will nationally. Early bird registration is still available for this event, and members receive a significant discount. I hope to see you there.

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